Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum this week issued eight cease-and-desist letters ordering grocery and convenience stores to stop "coronavirus-related price gouging" of surgical face masks, toilet paper and bottled water.
"The governor's declaration triggered Oregon laws against price gouging," Rosenblum wrote in the letters, issued March 24 and 25. "Oregon's anti-price-gouging laws prohibit offering or selling essential consumer goods or services at an unconscionably excessive price during a declaration of an abnormal disruption of the market."
Rosenblum issued the letters to five 7-Eleven stores in the state: two in Portland, one in Salem, and two in Eugene, all of which are accused of selling surgical face masks above market rate.
The attorney general also issued letters to an AM-PM convenience store in Salem for selling overpriced bottled water, the Keizer Food Market in Keizer for excessively priced single rolls of toilet paper, and a Newberg man selling overpriced surgical face masks on a McMinnville buy-sell Facebook group.
The letters did not specify how much the vendors were charging for the products, but sellers are considered to be engaged in price gouging if they price an item 15 percent higher than the item cost prior to market disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rosenblum demanded the vendors immediately modify their prices to comply with the law. Failing to comply can result in civil penalties of up to $25,000 per violation, the letter says, and businesses could be required to pay restitution to customers.
7-Eleven issued a statement to WW regarding the price gouging.
"7-Eleven is committed to providing quality products at fair, honest prices. Any violations of federal, state, and local price-gouging laws will not be tolerated," the company said. "We are taking steps to resolve any issues brought to our attention as 7-Eleven strongly discourages these practices. 7-Eleven stands ready to serve communities in which we do business during this difficult time."
On Monday, Rosenblum joined 32 other attorneys general in a letter warning major e-commerce sites like Facebook Marketplace, eBay and Amazon that they are not exempt from price gouging laws. (Disclosure: Rosenblum is married to the co-owner of WW's parent company.)
Consumers reported a 2-liter bottle of hand sanitizer being sold for $250 on Craigslist, an 8-ounce bottle of hand sanitizer listed for $40 on Facebook Marketplace, and packs of face masks advertised at $40 to $50 each on eBay.
"All of these were far and above Oregon's 15 percent markup line," Rosenblum said in a press release. "We want to make sure all our large online vendors do a better job of watching the marketplace for price gouging behavior."